This site examines the role of nuclear weapons in the post-Cold War international security environment, which faces emerging and constantly evolving threats from state and non-state actors alike. Specific topics discussed include arms control; deterrence; civilian nuclear power; South Asian nuclear strategy and power balance; nuclear terrorism; and the role of the United States in nonproliferation.


Nonproliferation vs. Disarmament, or: A Bit of a Crowbar Separation, Thank You.

A friend, Nate (check out his blog) posted an entry recently on Stephen Walt's Foreign Policy Commandments. I'd like to pull Commandments 2 and 3 from the original article:
  • Commandment 2:Thou Shalt Oppose the Spread of Nuclear Weapons.
  • Commandment 3:Thou Shalt Not Question the Need for a Nuclear Deterrent.
Walt at least does acknowledge that these two commandments are contradictory, but, as he says, "what's a little hypocrisy when you're a great power? Americans think other states shouldn’t get nuclear weapons, but most people in the foreign policy establishment don’t think the United States should give them up."

Here are my thoughts on this:

Walt reflects the US status quo mentality when it comes to the use and usefulness of unconventional military power in global affairs. That mentality goes something like this:

Nuclear disarmament as a goal is ultimately too idealistic. We'll keep reducing and reducing our numbers but it will get to a point where they will have 1 and we will need to have at least 2, because at the end of the day, whoever gets rid of their last warhead not only opens that country up to vulnerabilities and increased chances of attack, but also demonstrates to the global community that country's weakness and myopic policymaking tendencies.

To counter the same tired, trite conventional arguments against disarmament, here's a rebuttal by James Acton and George Perkovich. Interesting read that, I think, puts things into perspective.

So what does this mean going forward, and in particular light of (a) Obama's Prague speech and (b) the recent Obama/Medvedev summit and renewed START? It means that non-proliferation and disarmament, first and foremost, are NOT synonymous. Non-proliferation is certainly a good start, and the alphabet soup that is the current global non-proliferation regime is a step in the right direction. But such doctrines are neither sustainable nor in the best interests of long-term global security. "Non-proliferation" needs to be replaced by "disarmament." Only a complete shift in thinking will bring about the change we all truly need to ensure a stable and peaceful future for future generations.

Remember, the presence of nuclear weapons hasn't deterred anything -- wars have still happened. Just because no one's pressed the big red panic button yet doesn't mean it can't happen tomorrow. At the end of the day, deterrence is a logically flawed policy that creates a zero-sum game situation. As one of the remnants of the Cold War that continue to influence our policymaking thought processes, deterrence, along with its close relative, Mutually Assured Destruction, need to go.

What we need to understand is that the real threat of even one nuclear explosion will not be completely eliminated until we stop deluding ourselves. As long as the existence and possession of nuclear weapons are justified under the concept of "deterrence," we cannot consider ourselves completely opposed to the spread of nuclear weapons. Non-proliferation is not an end in itself, but rather is a step towards the real end goal of disarmament.


Civilian Nuclear Power, or: "We Swear it's for Peaceful Purposes!"

I appreciate any and all comments on this blog, especially those that do not agree with me. I think it's important to leverage the right of free speech, available to any and every user of the Internet, to foment substantive discussion on such hot-button issues as nuclear disarmament. And I'd like to take a page out of my future alma mater: Today I was browsing the Fletcher website and came across the page for The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs. On the Forum's main page is the following quote:

The editorial board of The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs believes that the publication’s audience values and expects the inclusion of conflicting viewpoints; the board does not expect readers to concur with all of the views expressed by Forum authors. This inherent diversity supports the very definition of a “forum,” i.e., a public meeting place for open discussion.

So with this in mind, I'd like to respond to some very good points made by reader Matt:

While we absolutely must acknowledge -- and I think most national leaders do -- that we can never rid the world of what beloved Bush used to call "evildoers," what we must do is leverage our multilateral institutions to create choke points on the dissemination of nuclear power technology. The reality is that there cannot be a complete and total separation between peaceful nuclear technology and nuclear weapons technology; any country that engages in sharing such technology, expertise or material is contributing to the precise problem you describe, which is that "the technology exists, and will always exist." Once you start creating low-enriched uranium for use in nuclear power plants, you already have the capability and the material to create high-enriched uranium, which is critical to nuclear weapons development.

Admittedly, such international organizations as the UN and its nuclear watchdog agency, the IAEA, have not always been the best conduits for international cooperation on a slew of issues, ranging from proliferation to human rights & security to environmental development. And it's true that North Korea and Iran have proven that with enough determination, any country, no matter how poor its economy, political processes or infrastructure, can in fact produce a nuclear wepon. But keep in mind that countries like Brazil and Argentina have demonstrated that it is not only possible, but acceptable -- nay, encouraged -- to renounce your nuclear weapons programs, completely detach your country from even nuclear power generation, and become a completely and verifiably nuclear-free nation.

So perhaps the road going forward is two-fold: first, we must address and work towards reducing the number of nuclear weapons already in existence. The second and equally important step is to work on stemming the availability of fissile material and cutting off the means to share technology and expertise in nuclear development, whether it's purported to be for civilian power or for military might.

Having said all that, this is exactly why I'm going back to school. I think that what I've described above can be done, but I also know I don't have all the answers in terms of how we'll go about achieving these goals. Hopefully my training will prepare me to address these more difficult and sensitive questions.

In the meantime, if you ever hear a country that does not have a confirmed nuclear weapons program say it is developing civilian nuclear power capabilities for strictly peaceful purposes, you can say, "Yeah right."


Reconsidering Our Power, or: Specicide Now?

Last night I went to see Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which was a decent movie. But one of the trailers for the film really caught my eye: 2012, starring John Cusack and coming to a theater near you. This movie explores the possibility that the human race will be exterminated in just a couple of years. Scary thought, eh? Hardly groundbreaking in Hollywood though.

So in the spirit of the slew of films, past, present and future, that play with the idea that we as a race can be exterminated in just a minute, let's discuss the actual possibility of specicide, which differs from genocide in the following way: Genocide is the extermination of one particular segment of the human race, whether the filter is racial, ethnic, religious, or something else. By contrast, specicide (root: species) is the complete and utter extermination of the entire human race.

The chances of specicide for most people, I think, is pretty low. Though Hitler was the most notorious individual to successfully launch a campaign of genocide, he has been followed by a bevy of equally deranged people dedicated to their cause. But no one has yet to attempt the ultimate coup -- specicide. And with good reason:

The opportunity for any one individual or nation or even group of countries to conduct a full-scale specicidal campaign has never really been possible. The technology and delivery vehicles needed to wipe out over six billion people almost simultaneously isn't there. The only way it could happen is as a result of some natural, cataclysmic, near-apocalyptic natural disaster. This is precisely the premise of 2012.

"But wait a second, Rizwan," some of you might be saying. "What about nuclear weapons?"

To which I respond, perfect. That's exactly the thing. Here's a quote from Tad Daley, writing today both in the Huffington Post and on the IPPNW blog:

A quarter century before the voyages of Apollo, the invention of the nuclear weapon gave life on Earth, for the first time, [to] the capacity [of humankind] to bring about its own extinction by its own hands ... This period, where we hold this capability to destroy ourselves but before we have found a way to save ourselves, might be called the human race’s ultimate “window of vulnerability.”

So in the 1940s, for the very first time in the history of the human race, which stretches back for millennia, we developed the destructive power to potentially decimate all of humankind. And the entire world witnessed that destructive power on August 6th and August 9th, 1945.

For the next forty-four years, the human race held its breath as, with each day, the number of these terrifying devices seemed to interbreed, spawning larger and larger litters. Of course, there were numerous official attempts to reduce the size of the litters, while many popular movements called for a complete neutering, so that no more offspring could be produced.

Then in 1989, seemingly overnight, it was all over. The Wall came down, the USSR gave back its annexed territories, and the world breathed a collective sigh of relief. Finally, the terror would end and things would go back to normal. The status quo would be reinstated and we wouldn't have to worry about blinding white flashes of light, fallout shelters or Duck and Cover drills.

But it's now 2009. Twenty full years -- two decades -- and these instruments of slaughter are still here. They haven't gone away. I applaud the more recent, renewed efforts of public leaders calling for complete and total disarmament. Of course, it takes chutzpah to make this a central policy position, especially when the issue has been largely ignored, like dust under the rug, for nearly a quarter century. (At least I feel this way; I don't think the issue has received the proper political, social and media attention it rightfully deserves.)

But while the road ahead will be rocky and full of potholes, what we need more than anything else right now is true popular support. There are so many organizations and groups working to mobilize laypersons just like you and me, so that we can continue pressuring our leaders to take further action on what is has very quickly become a hot-button issue.

If we can't do this much, there is no light and no hope. If we cannot change things now, I'm afraid we won't have to wait until 2012 for the world to end -- that moment will come much sooner.


Identity vs Numbers, or: the Scope and Impact of a Nuclear Explosion

To quote a recent Foreign Policy article:

Governments can bomb faceless troops of enemy conscripts with impunity, but are questioned closely about bombing photographable individuals. Numbers numb; identity humanizes.

How so very true. Rogue, for-hire mercenaries aside, the use of assassins as instruments of official (though very clandestine) state influence has been a practice for millennia. It's really no surprise that at the most convenient times, various power-wielding officials, whether military, intelligence or political, have somehow expired.

Yet every time this has happened over the course of modern world history, there's always an outpouring of emotion. Support, grief, blame, anger, disbelief -- it doesn't matter. For one person to publicly die one way or another is to put a human face on this indigestible concept of death. Humans, naturally, are afraid of death and dying. Death with a capital D represents the unknown, the other side, the hereafter.

But for a mass of people to publicly die one way or another simply doesn't evoke the same emotion. Numbers do indeed numb, while identity humanizes.

(It's important to note at this point the caveat to my statement: Numbers numb, as long as they're not on home turf. New York, September 2001: thousands died and we all banded together, but only because it happened here on our own soil. I haven't seen the same support in the US for the victims of the 2004 Madrid bombings or of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Over two centuries of virtually untouched geographic isolation will do that to a nation.)

So in the context of this understanding, what would happen if, say, two countries in Central Asia engaged in full-scale conventional warfare tomorrow? With thousands of troops from international coalition forces fighting and dying on both sides, would all of humankind be driven to feel the same emotions we felt when, say, Gandhi was assassinated? Or Dr King? or JFK? My guess is that we would not. Witness the involvement of the international community in Afghanistan and Iraq for the past seven years. July 2009 was the bloodiest month for US-led international forces in Afghanistan, with at least 46 casualties reported so far.

Forty-six! That's forty-five more than just one famous persona being eliminated!

Yet because we don't know who these 46 were, because they were not popular figures, because they were not household names (nor will they ever attain this status posthumously), we simply cannot self-evoke the same type or level of emotion.

Or is it because the war is taking place in a part of the world that -- let's face it -- we the people don't really care about?

So now let's shift focus and broaden our scope. If 46 or 200 or even 10,000 soldiers are killed in the course of a conventional war, how would we react to just one nuclear explosion in Kabul? Let's say a nuclear device went off there tomorrow and decimated the capital of Afghanistan (with, according to USAID, a population of 3,450,000). For one nuclear weapon to wipe Kabul off the map is not unrealistic, and the number of people immediately affected by the blast represents approximately 0.05% of the world population (6,768,167,712 as of July 2009, according to the US Census Bureau).

Without taking into account long-term medical-related casualties as a result of fall-out, debris or surface temperature cooling (International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, or IPPNW, has done a wonderful job detailing these long-term effects), and considering just these immediate casualties as a result of the blast impact, how does the thought of so many people dying so quickly make you feel?

More than the use of a nuclear weapons, there is nothing as horrifying as the existence of a nuclear weapon. Its presence begets its threat. There is no other instrument of war as indiscriminate as a nuclear weapon. It is a device used for slaughter, and nothing else.

The only way, however, that nuclear weapons truly will be abolished -- completely and verifiably eliminated -- is if we the people begin to take notice of the utter destruction and havoc just one device can wreak on a region and, indeed, the world. We must stop thinking in terms of numbers and reconnect with our sense of shared humanity.